Article © Shane Linder, uploaded January 01, 2002.
As I write this in 1998, the last few months have seemed like Christmas to me with gifts arriving every week. If you have not seen at least some of the "new" Asian imports, get out of your fishroom! This was truly one of the best import seasons in history for Asian fishes, and especially Asian catfishes. Regular shipments have been arriving from throughout Southeast Asia, India, and Burma. The Burmese shipments have been particularly impressive and have included many rare and sought after catfishes.
Arriving from Southeast Asia was the first, to my knowledge, importation of an Akysid. The species is a member of the genus Acrochordonichthys. These small catfish greatly resemble the South American banjo catfishes (Aspredinidae) and can easily be confused with them. Perhaps the easiest way to tell the two families apart is to look for an adipose fin. Most Akysids possess an adipose while all Aspredinids lack an adipose. Acrochrodonichthys act very similar to the banjo cats. They spend their time laying still on the tank's substrate and rarely move except when food is introduced to the tank. They do not compete well with other fishes for food, so chose tankmates accordingly. I would suggest a small tank with a substrate of fine sand, peat, and oak leaves. Good tankmates would be small rasboras or dwarf gouramis. Like Aspredinids, these fish shed their skin from time to time. This is normal and healthy.
New and interesting bagrids have also been showing up. From India Horabagrus brachysoma, Batasio travancoria, and various "Mystus" from the vittatus complex have been imported. Horabagrus brachysoma, the bullseye catfish, is a very interesting and attractive Bagrid. It almost looks as if a mad scientist crossed a Bagrid, a Pangasiid, and a Schilbeid. Horabagrus has been moved between families quite a bit. However, Pethiyagoda and Kottelat recently described another Horabagrus (H. nigricollaris) and stated in their paper that Horabagrus should remain in Bagridae. This is a beautifully colored fish. The color and pattern are very similar to that of "Mystus" bimaculatus the Asian two spot catfish. The name bullseye catfish refers to the black spot on the fish's nape. These fish are fairly aggressive and will eat any fish that they can fit in their mouth. H. brachysoma is mainly found in brackish estuaries and lagoons in the wild. The addition of marine salt will help the fish feel more at home, but they also do quite well in pure fresh water. An adult fish could reach a maximum of 18 inches standard length, so be prepared.
Batasio travancoria, on the other hand, is no beauty contestant. This fish is an overall mottled tan color with a single dark stripe running from the eye to the caudal peduncle. There is very little information about B. travancoria in the scientific literature. Most scientific texts simply state that the fish is rare in nature. Sadly, I can not recommend this fish as a good candidate for the aquarium. I believe that they may be a specialized feeder. These fish will not compete for food and will only accept even frozen foods after they are nearly starved. Even this does not solve the problem though. Despite constant heavy feedings, all of my specimens slowly lost weight until they died. This fish would be a good candidate for the aquarist willing to experiment with various diets. There is certainly an impetus to do this because the fish is so uncommon in nature.
Shipments from SE Asia have included Batasio tengana, Bagrichthys macracanthus (the black lancer), and an unidentifiable Leiocassis or Pseudomystus. These Leiocassis/Pseudomystus resemble Pseudomystus stenomus, the false bumblebee catfish, but have a more elongate body, longer barbels, and very elongate caudal fins. Many of the Leiocassis/Pseudomystus catfishes are sexually dichromatic. The light markings on the males are usually much lighter and more pronounced than they are on the females. This is also true for the common Asian bumblebee catfish (Pseudomystus siamensis). The dichromatism is so great in this species that I believed the shipment held to distinct species. It was only after taking a close look at all the fish that I realized there was only one species. There is a very good chance that this fish is undescribed. Look for them under the name marbled bee cat.
Other "Mystus" cats seen recently include Mystus cavasius and "M." leucophasis from Burma and at least three distinct striped species of Mystus from India. It is a shame that a revision of the striped Indian "Mystus" cats has yet to be carried out. Until such a revision is completed, it is a hopeless task to try to identify these fish. Mystus cavasius is a quite plain fish. Its most striking features are its taller than normal dorsal fin and long high adipose. These fish are fairly aggressive even among their own kind. However, the aggression displayed by M. cavasius can not come near that of "Mystus" leucophasis.
"M." leucophasis is a very beautiful fish. These fish are a very dark black that highlights in purple. Sprinkled along the flanks are a series of small silvery white dots. These fish are also true "upside downs" and constantly swim inverted. Yes they are gorgeous, so what is the drawback? Basically they see all other fish as either targets for aggression or as food. This often includes their own kind. Any tankmate not strong enough to defend itself will be attacked and or harassed to death. Smaller fishes are simply eaten. Possible tankmates would include tough cichlids (I have seen "M." leucophasis thrive in a Mbuna tank), large armored catfishes, or other large fishes that will defend themselves. It is possible to keep a group provided you provide lots of hiding places and only keep one male per tank. I am keeping a trio of one male and two females in a 40 gallon tank full of PVC pipe sections and they are doing well. Make sure the hiding places allow these fish to rest inverted. An adult female should grow to nearly a foot (SL) and males to ten inches.
Recent shipments have also turned up a number of interesting "glass cats" from the family Siluridae. Two interesting Silurids that have shown up include Kryptopterus macrocephalus and K. cryptopterus. K. macrocephalus looks very similar to its cousins the common glass cats (Kryptopterus minor and K. bicirrhis). It differs in having an overall mottled pattern. This pattern constantly lightens and darkens with lighting conditions and the colors of the tank's background and substrate. K. macrocephalus is a schooling fish and it is a bit sensitive. Avoid large water changes and keep them in a tank with soft acidic water. K. cryptopterus is an interesting catfish. It looks similar to other glass cats but has a much-elongated snout and grows much larger. It is also a stockier fish and not transparent. Look for K. cryptopterus under the name smokey glass cat.
The very fascinating Pseudeutropius moolenburghae from the family Schilbeidae is also "new" to the import scene. Ng Heok Hee wrote about the natural history of these fish in the last North American Catfish Society newsletter so I'll refer you to his article for more information. I would like to add a couple things though. Unlike Heok Hee, I have found these fish to be anything but shy or delicate. My school of P. moolenburghae are extremely active. They constantly chase each other around the tank with a gusto more characteristic of tiger barbs. This play is harmless and the fish seem to enjoy it. They are also greedy eaters and will wolf down any food offered to them. Be sure to keep a school though, as their rough playfulness must be distributed evenly. These fish are also easily sexed. Males possess a very elongate genital papilla that is easy to spot. I would highly recommend these fish to someone that is looking to be the first to spawn a new species. They stay small (three inches adult length), can be sexed, and are easy to care for. Perfect prerequisites for aquarium spawning. Recent shipments have come in under the incredibly original and descriptive name "Asian catfish."
Finally, some very interesting Sisorids have been present in recent shipments. One Sisorid, from Burma, that I really have taken a liking to is coming in under the common name moth catfish. This species appears to be Hara filamentosus. Their heavily armored bodies are cryptically-colored in various shades of gray. The pattern is reminiscent of a moth's wings and so the common name is quite fitting. These fish do very well in the aquarium provided the temperature is kept in the low to mid seventies. It is also important that the tank have a strong current provided by power heads. These fish prefer frozen and live foods but in time will even accept dry foods. Moth cats do show some aggression amongst themselves, but no damage is ever done and the fighting is quite harmless.
Gagata cavia, another Burmese sisorid, is also new to the aquarium trade. These fish are very long and slender with a body shape similar to that of Rineloricaria species. These fish require very strong currents and live and frozen foods to do well in captivity. The tank's temperature should remain in the low seventies. What do I mean by a lot of current? My group is thriving in a twenty gallon long aquarium filtered by a 400 gallon per hour (gph) dual bio-wheel and an additional 180 (gph) power head. This seems to suit these fish just fine and they spend the majority of their time stuck to the wall right in front of the power head. G. cavia, like many other Sisorids, possess an organ on their thorax that allows them stay put in strong currents much the same way as Loricariids do via their sucker mouths. You could almost call these fish "sucker chest" catfish. G. cavia do not fight among themselves or with other fishes. They are an overall golden brown with a dark line that runs from the operculum to the caudal peduncle.
Akysids, Bagrids, Silurids, Schilbeids and Sisorids - all new, and all in one year! Take a chance on some of these new imports. Very little is known about many of these catfish. These cats present a great chance for an aquarist to be a true pioneer. So if you are looking for something a little different give some of these exotic Asian imports a try.
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